The World Ends With You, a Square Enix title from 2007 (released in North America in 2008), made a number of narrative and unique design decisions that created an experience that transcends its age. It sometimes felt jarring, especially when I was learning how to move combat between the two screens. There were times when the story was a little bananas, but it’s not nearly as bad as Kingdom Hearts.
The Nintendo DS did a lot of interesting things with its handheld hardware, including the inclusion of dual screens — one for display and the other for touch interaction. And while many of the game titles for the DS made use of both screens, The World Ends With You did it particularly well.
If you somehow missed this gem 10 years ago, here’s why you need to pick it up and play it.
The World Ends With You is still a stylish feast for the eyes and the ears
Before Persona 4 Golden charmed its way into my heart in 2016 — yes, I was late to that cultural phenomenon — The World Ends With You swept me away to the streets of Shibuya, Tokyo.
Even though I had no real concept of what gameplay was going to be when I first loaded the game up in 2010, the aesthetic and soundtrack had me hooked from the get-go. Rave wear had hit the mainstream in the early 2000s and left almost as soon as it took hold. I had to wonder: Why were we seeing kids in rave wear in 2008?
I needed to know more.
As I made my way through the opening moments of the game, first meeting Neku (the protagonist) and Shiki, I knew I’d stumbled on something really special. I was enraptured by the Tokyo youth culture touchpoints (similar to what we see with Persona 5 throughout the game). The bombastic clothing, the food and the obsession with cell phones were echoes of my early 20s.
I adore the character designs in The World Ends With You. Each of the characters in the game are iconic. They’re hyper-stylized and bold, an intersection of rave culture and Tokyo’s wildly creative Harajuku street style. I still want a pair of Shiki’s boots.
But it’s the music that really makes the game shine. Qualms about the DS’ touch foibles and the steep learning curve for combat aside, The World Ends With You is stuffed to the brim with pop-punk, house and nu-metal beats that I can’t help but groove to.
The combat is a steep learning curve, but it’s worth it
There were more than a few times that I wanted to throw my DS across the room in frustration when I was learning how the combat system worked. It requires concentrating on both the bottom and top screens, interacting with both the touchscreen and the D-Pad controls at any given moment.
It’s not quite Nintendo Hard, but it’s close. Thankfully, the game doesn’t drop you into difficult battles right from the start. You’ll be eased into it, but it ramps up quickly, especially when you meet up with the rest of your team, like Beat and Rhyme.
Boss battles will require an immense amount of concentration to properly execute combinations between the Neku and his battle partner. What I love most about the combat in The World Ends With You is the exquisite interplay between the two screens. Until I entered Shibuya with Neku, I hadn’t seen an intricate battle system that required use of both screens.
Admittedly, it plays much, much better on the 3DS (even if the graphics didn’t age well). But it’s a completely different experience on iOS, because there’s only one screen to use. According to Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, combat is completely overhauled. (I haven’t had much chance to dig into the iOS version of the game just yet.)
“You have to use your partner’s abilities concurrently with your own. For example, you might tap on an enemy to summon your partner’s lightning bolts while simultaneously swiping the ground near that enemy to conjure up walls of fire. You can alternate these attacks to do bonus damage to opponents.”
This last-gen gem holds up incredibly well to today’s RPG standards. The combat is challenging, especially if you play it in its original DS form. The visuals are stunning. The soundtrack is incredible. And if you’re more focused on your Switch (understandably), then you can pick up The World Ends With You on iOS and Android.
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